Luke Getsy's star rising with Packers
Buried in the archives of the Houston Chronicle is a 139-word brief detailing a football game at a nearby high school. The article is dated Jan. 13, 2007, and in five paragraphs it recaps the Inta Juice North-South All-Star Classic, a showcase for college seniors.
Though the event was largely irrelevant, the game served as a running joke for the Green Bay Packers last season. Two members of the organization were on the field that day, and the newspaper preserved their unlikely connection.
Jacob Ford of Central Arkansas had an interception in the third quarter to set up a 16-yard touchdown pass from Akron’s Luke Getsy to James Jones of San Jose State.
Players were floored. The idea that Jones, the team’s leading receiver in 2015, had shared a field with Getsy, then an offensive quality control coach for the Packers, seemed too easy to mock.
“It just showed how old James was,” Getsy said with a smile.
More significantly, though, it demonstrated the inverse of that statement: It showed how young Getsy is.
After two years in quality control, Getsy was promoted to wide receivers coach during the off-season, within days of his 32nd birthday. The move continued a prodigal rise through the coaching ranks that has featured seven jobs in 10 years, including two stints as a collegiate offensive coordinator, and is destined to end with a head job in the National Football League, according to several of his former bosses.
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The Packers reintroduced Getsy at a news conference in mid-February, and coach Mike McCarthy spoke fondly of Getsy’s stunning interview two years prior, a first impression that echoed the other first impressions he’s made at nearly every job along the way. Everything McCarthy said — he praised Getsy for his football intelligence, work ethic and for earning an endorsement from receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb — matched the opinions of those who have known Getsy since his college days at the University of Pittsburgh and University of Akron.
“Luke has a great foundation,” McCarthy said during minicamp last week. “And now that he’s the No. 1 guy in the room, he’s done a very good job. He’s taken ownership of it and he’s been creative with his fundamentals. I think he’s off to a great start.”
The new receivers coach is a rising star. He’s also the least likely to grow a beard.
In the early weeks of 2009, shortly after taking over as head coach at West Virginia Wesleyan, a Division II school with fewer than 1,500 students, Dennis Creehan drove to Pittsburgh to interview an aspiring coach he’d never met.
Creehan, now 66, was in the market for an offensive coordinator when a friend recommended Getsy, an up-and-coming graduate assistant described as “young but really, really sharp.” So he made the trip to Pittsburgh and met Getsy in the food court of a shopping mall. Within a few hours, Getsy landed his first full-time job.
“The coach that told me that was right,” Creehan said. “We hired him right away.”
At 24, Getsy was less than two years removed from his playing days at Akron, where he twice led the Mid-American Conference in passing yards and was an undrafted free agent with the San Francisco 49ers in 2007. He quickly assumed a graduate assistant’s role at Akron, which he held for two years, and then eagerly accepted Creehan’s offer to run the offense — all before he could rent a car without paying an underage fee.
Wesleyan employed far fewer coaches than a traditional Division I football team, let alone the populous staff McCarthy enjoys in Green Bay. It meant that Getsy coached multiple positions in addition to his job as coordinator. He raised eyebrows with his ability to integrate the passing game with the running game using multiple formations, and Creehan labeled Getsy “way ahead of his age group” on a staff filled with young coaches.
“When he got going in coaching,” said Yogi Roth, a former teammate and receiver at Pitt, “I can remember talking to J.D. Brookhart, his coach in Akron, and he was like, ‘This guy is a star. He is a rock star.’”
Though Getsy stayed only one season at Wesleyan, the depth of his contributions lingered through 2011, when quarterback Adam Neugebauer led all of Division II in passing yards (4,111) and touchdowns (40) en route to winning offensive player of the year honors in the conference. Neugebauer, who went on to sign with the Green Bay Blizzard, had been an overlooked recruit who, Creehan said, “nobody thought could play a lick.”
He continued: “And then under Luke’s guidance and leadership, he came on and wound up being the starter.”
Said Getsy: “I wouldn’t trade that in for anything. That might have been one of the biggest growths I’ve ever had in this coaching profession at such an early age for sure.”
Four years later, after a quick stint as a graduate assistant at Pitt and another turn as an offensive coordinator at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Getsy arrived at Western Michigan for his first crack at coaching wide receivers. And in a unique twist, the job was eerily similar to the situation he inherited with the Packers.
Timmy Keith, a redshirt sophomore receiver, had suffered a torn ACL in the first game of the previous season, four months before Getsy was hired in January 2013. Keith’s recovery time overlapped with the early portion of Getsy’s tenure, just as Jordy Nelson’s recovery has been a prevailing story line in Green Bay.
As his rehab continued, Keith said Getsy worked to preserve the fundamentals of his game. The body’s natural reaction is to compensate for injury, and Getsy fought that process by emphasizing proper body positioning and technique. He sought to suppress the creation of bad habits.
“A lot of the receivers coaches I’ve had, I’ve connected with a lot of them and a few that I didn’t, but I connected with Coach Getsy,” said Keith, who later transferred to Stony Brook. “He was more for us. That’s what I felt about him. He was for our guys, for our group, and we just had a unity within our group.”
Keith said he looked up to Getsy and appreciated his efforts to engage with players outside of football. He remembers a barbecue at Getsy’s house. He welcomed the ability to speak openly during meetings.
Keith and Getsy conversed so frequently about education that Keith said he followed in his coach’s footsteps and graduated with a degree in marketing. (Getsy graduated from Akron with a degree in marketing management and sales management.)
On the field, Keith admired the way Getsy held everyone accountable by using every minute of every practice. He marveled at Getsy’s knowledge of coverages — Packers receiver Ed Williams made a similar comment last week — and loved the details of Getsy’s two-part breakdowns: First he told his receivers what the front seven was doing. Then he told them what was happening in the secondary.
“He knew everything that was coming,” Keith said. “We could always know basically how quickly we had to run a route, how quickly we had to get our head around based on if pressure was coming or anything like that. If you know the coverage before it even happens, you’re already open.”
Getsy worked closely with offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca, who, like Creehan at Wesleyan, described his protégé as “beyond his age in coaching.” Schematically, Getsy was responsible for assisting Ciarrocca with the first- and second-down passing game plan. They also worked together on the third-down plan.
“He had a great ability to learn our system and then be able to make contributions to our system with things that fit,” Ciarrocca said. “There’s a lot of great plays out there, but the key to a good assistant is making sure they find plays that fit the system that you’re in.
“He had a lot of great ideas. A lot of great ideas.”
Getsy spent just one season at Western Michigan before accepting a job in quality control with the Packers in 2014. To this day, Ciarrocca said, the upperclassmen still ask about Getsy.
The Luke Getsy toy collection held its launch party earlier this spring, with the first location along the sideline of Ray Nitschke Field. There, during water breaks built into off-season practices, Getsy and the receivers gather for drills that are part football, part circus, full fun.
Getsy’s bag of tricks includes footballs and tennis balls, which are used for juggling to improve hand-eye coordination. He pulls out concrete blocks and bricks, which are used for dropping and catching to improve grip. He flings NERF balls while receivers cover one eye, which trains their brains to catch the football even with impaired vision. When the team moves indoors, he uses a staircase for odd-angle, over-the-shoulder catches.
“Luke has been great,” Cobb said in early June. “He’s brought a lot of new things, a lot of new thoughts to us. Different ways to view what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Getsy’s freshness and creativity are among the traits that have endeared him to the receivers through the first four months of his tenure.
Getsy and David Raih, now the assistant offensive line coach, interviewed on consecutive days in 2014. It was an extensive process in which both candidates spent at least 30 minutes with every coach on McCarthy’s staff. It included video breakdowns, scheme evaluations and required them to draw certain things on a whiteboard. Raih went first and nailed it.
“I just remember leaving Lambeau being so impressed with David,” McCarthy said in February. . . “Then the next day, Luke had a tremendous interview. Frankly, when we sat around as a staff and went through both guys, everybody felt like Luke just hit it a little further.”
The Packers hired both candidates, and Getsy spent the last two seasons working in offensive quality control. He spent his first year working closely with Tom Clements, the associate head coach/offense, and spent last season alongside Edgar Bennett, the team’s offensive coordinator. At McCarthy’s request, he worked with quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt as well.
This winter, McCarthy chose to pursue a full-time receivers coach after last year’s experiment without one. Nelson and Cobb cast their votes for Getsy. McCarthy did the same.
“It’s been a lot of fun getting to know the guys on a different level, individualizing our relationships and seeing what drives each guy, seeing where we can help” Getsy said during minicamp last week.
“The room we’ve got is outstanding. Being able to communicate with them on a daily basis of how to get each other better, that’s what we’re trying to do.”